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‘Panto’ Queen speech sparks Belfast City Hall row

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

A royal row erupted at Belfast City Council after a Sinn Fein councillor compared a speech by Belfast’s Deputy Lord Mayor to a pantomime performance.

The controversial comments came after the DUP’s Ruth Patterson put forward a motion congratulating the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee at a full meeting of Belfast City Council this week.

During her three-and-a-half minute oration the Deputy Lord Mayor commented on those whose “bitterness and hatred” stopped them from extending “the hand of friendship to the Queen” on her visit to Ireland.

A verbal spat erupted when Jim McVeigh, Sinn Fein’s group party leader in City Hall, said: “I just would want to take the opportunity to congratulate the deputy mayor on a hugely entertaining, almost pantomime-like performance ... worthy of some of the best performances that I have seen over the years in the Opera House. So, very well done.”

Afterwards the Deputy Lord Mayor accused Mr McVeigh of being “disrespectful” and called on him to “remember your place” on the council.

Mr McVeigh hit back: “Kettle and pot is something you should bear in mind. I do (know my place) and it’s an equal place.”

Last month, Sinn Fein’s Niall O Donnghaile was accused of snubbing the Queen after the Belfast Telegraph revealed he had decided to stand down as mayor a week early to avoid Jubilee celebrations in the city.

Meanwhile, speaking after the meeting, Mr McVeigh said he stood over his outburst in the chamber: “We were trying to be measured and respectful, but her whole tone was over-the-top, provocative, and she was trying to bait us with some of the things she was saying.

“She was getting on like a drama queen.”

In a statement, Mrs Patterson said the Sinn Fein man had “abandoned basic manners”.

She said: “I think it's important for council members to treat each other with respect and to act in a dignified matter. In future I hope Councillor McVeigh will recognise that. He should respect my view and my right to hold it.”

Sinn Fein and the SDLP abstained from voting and the motion was carried by 19 votes.

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